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Friday, October 26, 2007

Book Clubs and Birthdays

On Wednesday my friend Mary invited me to come as her guest to her book club meeting in Mantoloking, "down the shore". They were discussing "The Age of Innocence". She'd seen my stack of Wharton books here (I don't think she's a blog reader) and thought I'd enjoy it. Which I did!

I'm in a book club of my own, and I couldn't help but make some comparisons. Mary's club meets in the evening, and there's wine (everyone brings a bottle, and the hostess keeps the leftovers) and the hostess provides a simple dinner (good sandwiches and a pasta salad this time). Ours is a daytime group. We get a cookie, maybe.

And - novelty of novelties - they all read the SAME BOOK! Unlike my group. We all just report on whatever we happen to have read or be reading. Not to say that there aren't some interesting advantages to this, but, because of this difference, I had expected this group to be a little less superficial than ours. I'm not really sure that was the case. Maybe it was the wine? They went around the room (as we do) and gave everyone a chance to comment. In some cases this sparked further discussion, but not always. The talk was almost entirely about comparing "then" (1870's New York) to "now"; would Newland Archer have behaved differently today? How has society changed?

At the end, a birthday cake suddenly appeared. I was startled, since it was actually MY birthday and I didn't think anyone knew. But it turned out that it was also the birthday of one of the members. This other woman was turning seventy-seven - ten years older than I (though I will always be sixty-five where this blog is concerned) - and I had at first thought, from her looks, that she might be even YOUNGER than I! Increasingly (the closer I get) the seventies are not looking so fearful.

ADDED: Thanks to Nina and Annette for such thoughtful comments. My own read-what-you-want group, which functions, it seems, exactly like Annette's, may actually be the ideal model for a group of disparate, reasonably intelligent women, none of whom are trained literary critics. I learn about books that I might never have heard of, borrow the ones that sound appealing, and never feel pressured to read something I don't care about. There are certain books that we all seem to read, sooner or later, so that in a roundabout way those do ultimately get discussed in a little more depth.


Blogger nina said...

Happy birthday!

In the days that I went to book clubs (all reading the same book), I always thought it was funny how the discussion inevitably was about the story and how the reader may have behaved differently or whether the character will regret his or her choice, or what may have happened if this or that -- AS IF IT WERE A REALITY! A report on someone's real life!

In the more serious book group, one person would come prepared and read reviews of the book and everyone would nod appreciatively. It took about an hour to get through that part and then everyone would gossip.

The idea of book groups is good, but if you think about it -- it's tough to do one well. Do you comment on the story? On the writing style? What is it that you want to share?

But the real problem, for me, was that I was reading books that I was not interested in and I had so little time for reading to begin with. ANd a stack of unfinished favorites on my nightstand.

Bottom line -- I went for the social stuff. As did the others. Until I realized that I should not have to read a boring book to be with people. Then I quit. No more book clubs. Pressure's off. Feels great to be free of them.

11:15 AM  
Blogger Annette Piper Dip. Gem. Handcrafted Jewellery said...

Belated wishes for your birthday!!!

We have two bookclubs in my little town too! I belong to the one like your regular club - we read whatever we like, take them along and discuss and lend to others who like the sound of it, whilst doing it with a cuppa, a cookie and a bit of a low-tense chat.

The other is like the club you visited - they meet in the evening over dinner and drinks, all read the same book etc.

The good thing is that we're still going but the other group seems defunct. The bookclub meetings became a bit tiresome for the husbands who had to man the fort at home! lol.

2:55 AM  

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